“The Hip Hop Nutcracker” is a bit like other versions of “The Nutcracker.” That is, as long as you consider that steps en tournant are performed on performers’ heads and sautes are executed with clean beats from one hand to the other.
…truly moving experience that set up a celebratory energy of music, dance, and life.
Though there are many “Nutcracker” interpretations, few divert from the norm as much as Director/Choreographer, Jennifer Weber’s, “the Hip Hop Nutcracker.” The show began as MC, Kurtis Blow pumped up audiences with old school music and dance; thus getting the audience up and grooving.
This seemingly small gesture set the premise for the entire show. I’ve found that the the most delightful, entertaining performers are amateurs who are joyfully immersed in the bliss of movement. Watching members of the audience stand up and join in dance was a truly moving experience that set up a celebratory energy of music, dance, and life.
Beginning with such an exceptional start lends itself to an unorthodox “Nutcracker,” and to that the show did not fall short. While the “traditional” version follows a childish Maria (or Clara in English-speaking countries), this story begins at a joyful street party where young adult, Maria-Clara (Ann-Sylvia Clark) is in attendance as well as the mysterious Drosselmeyer (Lisa “LBoogie” Bauford). The party’s merriment is not shared by all however, as Maria-Clara’s parents (Nubian Nene) and (Micah “Just Jamz”) are bickering. To escape her parents squabble, Maria-Clara takes a stroll outside where she catches the eye of a young man selling roasted nuts named “The Nutcracker” (Josue Figueroa aka “Beastmode.”)
After a flirtatious exchange, the two part ways. Shortly after, Maria-Clara is swarmed by the Mouse Crew led by Mouse Queen (Randi “Rascal” Freitas.) The Nutcracker comes to her rescue with the help of Drosselmeyer’s magical red sneakers. Together, the two enjoy the winter’s first snowfall. Drosselmeyer then transports the young couple to the Land of Sweets Nightclub on New Year’s Eve 1984 where they witness Maria-Clara’s mom and dad first meet on the dance floor. Returning to present day, Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker use music and dance to mend her parent’s relationship.
While “the Hip Hop Nutcracker” plot was by no means flawless, it was undeniably easier to follow than most “Nutcrackers” viewed today. In fact, during “the Nutcracker’s” 1892 premier in St. Petersburg, a critic wrote, “In ‘The Nutcracker,’ there is no subject whatsoever.” Since 1892, little has changed as divertissements dominate and confuse audiences everywhere.
That considered, “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” made greater strides to rectify “The Nutcracker’s” weak adaptation from ETA Hoffman’s original story while simultaneously making it more accessible to family audiences. For instance, the terrifying three-headed Mouse King and his army of mice that haunt both children (and myself) alike was replaced with the Mouse Crew led by the Mouse Queen (that’s right ladies, we marched for this.) Their dance battle integrated hip-hop with capoeira to bridge different dance styles born from the African diaspora.
From a choreographic perspective, the show proved highly entertaining as dancers utilized the entire stage with visually and viscerally stimulating choreography. The diverse cast maintained different strengths to showcase each dancer’s unique skill set. For the most part, choreography remained in keeping with the time period as dancers shifted between current day and 80’s style hip hop. The plot was driven by movement motifs, symbols, and set designs that reoriented audiences lost in plot holes.
Delightfully, Weber also resisted “Nutcracker” choreographers before her who resorted to painfully appropriated costumes depicting the cultural divertissements. Instead, dancers dressed in urban wear appropriate to the period.
Yet “the Nutcracker’s” most compelling reason for its timelessness is perhaps Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, which lends itself to kinesthetic movement. Refreshingly, Weber’s musicality was one of the most sophisticated choreographic interpretations I’ve seen. The production maintained the integrity of Tchaikovsky’s score with occasional overlays of electric violin and an on stage DJ for a modern flair. With music visualizations Isadora Duncan would be proud of and accentuations often lost in ballet versions, the music revitalized the beloved accents of Tchaikovsky’s work. While I wished Tchaikovsky’s lyricism shone as well, the product left me satisfied. Paying homage to the past, I do not feel that trailblazer, Tchaikovsky would be resentful at all by the unique approach and constant play with theme and variation throughout the piece.
All in all, “the Hip Hop Nutcracker” excited audiences and depicted the evolution of dance and music as Tchaikovsky’s classic was reimagined in a family-friendly, accessible manner. The celebratory performance and explosive choreography reminded audiences how music and dance cross generations to bridge people together.
Running Time: 120 minutes with 20 minute intermission.
To learn more about future productions at Strathmore, click here.